New digital archive at UW Law Library: “Bhopal: Law, Accidents and Disasters in India”

Bhopal 25-yr anniversaryA digital archive launched this fall at UW Law Library sheds light on the legal aspects of the world’s worst industrial disaster. According to Marc Galanter, UW professor emeritus of law and South Asian studies, more than 20,000 people died and hundreds of thousands more were injured as a result of the 1984 chemical leak that took place in Bhopal, India.

Marc GalanterThe new online collection, “Bhopal: Law, Accidents and Disasters in India,” also commemorates the role Galanter played in trying to secure compensation for the victims. At the time of the spill, he was one of only a few American scholars working on Indian law. He signed on to help the Indian government keep the case in the United States, where plaintiffs believed they would get fairer, and faster, treatment.

“We were arguing that India’s judicial system was not equipped to handle a case of Bhopal’s magnitude and complexity. Its backlog on civil cases was massive, and Indian tort law was undeveloped,” says Galanter of his testimony before a US federal court.

Representatives for Union Carbide Corporation, the American parent of the subsidiary that managed the Bhopal plant and the defendants in the case, wanted the lawsuits to be heard in Indian courts. A judge ultimately ruled in Union Carbide’s favor, a verdict Galanter attributes to misleading testimony about the capacity of the Indian courts.

For Bhopal’s victims, justice has not been served by India or its judicial system, he says: “More than three decades later, many of the survivors are still seeking adequate compensation. The site has yet to be fully cleaned up, and reforms to help prevent future accidents have been insufficient.”

Now, thanks to gifts amounting to $30,000, Galanter’s extensive collection of legal documents and news clippings relating to the American and Indian lit­igation has been digitized and housed at UW Law Library. The searchable archive contains more than 3,600 items and is expected to grow.

Support for the project comes from lawyers Michael Ciresi and Bruce Finzen, who represented the government of India in the Bhopal matter, along with Gary Wilson, a Minneapolis attorney and UW Law School graduate. As a law student, Wilson worked with Galanter to prepare his testimony in 1985.